Tag Archives: the great gatsby

Summer Reading for Two

I am an avid reader. For as long as I can remember, a great majority of my free time has been spent reading books. In the years 2005-2008, I even made lists of 40 books that I wanted to read over the course of the year, understanding that each list needed to be flexible and impermanent, since the order in which I read the book depended on my mood and I also could not predict whims and recommendations so far in advance. Anyway, when I found myself deep into my only truly serious relationship, I realized that I either needed to give up some of the time I wanted to devote to reading OR find a way to combine the two.

At first, my boyfriend and I sat on opposite ends of the couch and read our own books, pausing to discuss plot twists, inspirational moments, etc., but remaining essentially in separate worlds. However, when you love two things so much, sharing them fully is more fun. So we started reading to each other. It began haphazardly on a road trip… he was driving, so I became his own personal audiobook. It worked for us. When stationary, we switch off every few chapters and make it interesting with voices and accents and dramatic inflection. There have been times that we’ve stayed up all night reading aloud to finish a book. Nerdy, yes, very, but pretty cool too.

We read  the entire Harry Potter series together a few months ago, which took a very long time. We took a bit of a break after that, going back to our respective libraries and preferences for a while. We took The Outsiders with us on a weekend getaway more recently, but last night, we decided that it’s time to begin again with true gusto… so we started a summer list.

Lewis Carroll

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

(Me: reread; Him: new)

I’ve read them; my boyfriend has not (which is often the case with our choices as I am such a pushy recommender of books). He realized how unfamiliar he was with the actual stories when we went to see the Tim Burton film in theaters. He’s going to love how trippy they are.

Mark Twain

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

(Me: reread; Him: new)

We were discussing British and American authors once and trying to figure out our favorites’ contemporaries and international counterparts when it came out that my boyfriend had never read Huck Finn. We (I) decided that this travesty needed to be eradicated from our lives immediately.

Mark Twain

3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

(Me: reread; Him: new)

Of course, you can’t talk about Huck Finn without talking about Tom Sawyer. And similarly, you can’t have read Huck Finn without also reading Tom Sawyer. I know the rules. Added bonus: we are going to have so much fun with all those ridiculously Southern accents.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Me: reread; Him: reread)

We’ve both read Gatsby, but it’s been a while for each of us, and it’s such an important book (especially to me), it was a no brainer to add this one to the list. Also, with the on and off discussion of a Baz Luhrmann remake film adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick, we are curious to read it with them in mind.

William Golding

5. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

(Me: new; Him: reread)

This is one that my boyfriend has read and I have not. He seems to really have enjoyed it, even though it was a required read in one of his high school English classes (a circumstance which often killed his desire to read a book). I don’t even know very much about it, except that it is about an anarchist society and it is often considered a new classic by most’s standards, which is enough for me.

I see now that our list is made up of books read in one’s youth or adolescence, books that shape one’s thoughts and philosophies and ideas about the world. This was unintentional, although it should make for some very interesting discussion along the way.

Other possibilities we considered were Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, all of which would be new to both of us (with the exception of Kavalier and Clay, which he has read before).

I’d be happy to have suggestions, recommendations, comments, thoughts, etc. about the books on our list or perhaps the ones that aren’t. No matter what, it ought to be a pretty good summer.

A Letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to His Daughter at Boarding School

f. scotty

I don’t really know why, but today I was reminded of a line of prose… no, not just reminded.  I was haunted by it.  It may have been the lovely cool fall weather that we’re having and the fact that my first real Fitzgerald season of life was a fall not too many years previous.  It could have been other ideas I had today that guided my thoughts to an old friend who loved Daisy, and particularly these words, so much.  Whatever it was, I found the phrases rolling around in my brain all day… like a song I knew a long time ago and can’t quite remember.  So I looked them up:

“‘Ah,’ she cried, ‘you look so cool.’
Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.
‘You always look so cool,’ she repeated.
She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw.”

– Chapter 7, The Great Gatsby

Spending only a few brief moments flipping through such an old favorite is truly an impossibility.  I used up an hour at least skimming and remembering, going back and forth, reading text as well as my annotations in the margins.  I was probably 15 when I made them.

As I was putting the book down, the pages settled on one where I glanced another quote that always drew me to it as well.  Daisy, again.

“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

– Chapter 1, The Great Gatsby

Of course, beyond these few lines, there are a thousand reasons that Fitzgerald resonates with me… the poise of his language, his sharp, observant storytelling, the lovely characters in his works as memorable as real people and sometimes more so.  I was one of those that was happy to read his novels for senior English class, as they were on my own reading list.  I wrote two separate research papers on various aspects of his work.  I was drawn to the “Lost Generation” Jazz Age era anyway.  I loved discussing his poignancy in symbolism, the themes of youth and despair, acting out scenes we’d watched in the Redford/Farrow movie version.  But one bit of our studies stands out as more significant in my memory than the rest.  It was a letter… pieces of which were reprinted in our American literature books… a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter in boarding school.  I have copied here what I transcribed from my textbook back in high school:

These lines of advice are listed in a letter dated August 8, 1933.

“…halfwit, I will conclude with things to worry about: worry about courage, worry about cleanliness, worry about efficiency, worry about horsemanship….

“things not to worry about: don’t worry about public opinion, don’t worry about dolls, don’t worry about the past, don’t worry about the future, don’t worry about growing up, don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you, don’t worry about triumph, don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault, don’t worry about mosquitoes, don’t worry about flies, don’t worry about insects in general, don’t worry about parents, don’t worry about boys, don’t worry about disappointments, don’t worry about pleasures, don’t worry about satisfactions….

“things to think about: what am I really aiming at? How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to: a) scholarship, b) do I really understand about people and am I trying to get along with them?, and c) am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?”

I just love that although this letter was written almost seventy years ago, all of its advice is still so relevant and appropriate for our lives.  I love FSF’s mix of silly and important, and his categorization of things that matter and things that don’t.  I need this posted in front of my desk, not buried in some ancient book of quotes and poetry.  I need to heed its sage words as much as his own daughter, it seems.

Elsewhere, in my short internet researches of the man himself, I found a few unrelated but interesting bits I’d also like to include:

an excerpt from Gatsby in Fitzgerald's own hand

The above section (click to enlarge) can be found just a page or two beyond the first quote I mentioned…, also in Chapter 7.  Below is Fitzgerald’s silver hip flask.

Zelda was of course to become his wife

The inscription says,

“To 1st Lt. F. Scott Fitzgerald
65th Infantry
Camp Sheridan

Forget-me-not
Zelda
9-13-18
Montgomery, Ala.”

And last, a photograph of Zelda and Scott’s grave in Rockville, Maryland, inscribed with the final sentence of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

died at age 44

I, of course, highly recommend Fitzgerald’s novels as well as his abundant short stories, which for the most part are gathered conveniently into collections like Flappers and PhilosophersTales of the Jazz Age and Babylon Revisited and Other Stories.  Such fantastic classic works… do yourself a favor.